Have you ever misidentified the Korean peninsula on a map, then double checked and realized you had your finger on Russia? That’s the Kamchatka Peninsula and it’s very nearly what Sarah Palin could see from her house. The skinny neck of land connecting it to the continent renders it one of the most isolated places on earth, and this book really fills in that picture. It is lonely, it is cold, and it is beautiful.
Against this landscape, two sisters ages 8 and 11 are kidnapped. They venture out one day and never return and the crime rocks their town, sending ripples through every person. The rest of the book is told from the perspective of a different person each chapter, all of them woven together in a larger tapestry and each opening the window into the world just a little wider.
Overall, it is a really interesting way to tell a story. The first and last chapters have the same primary third-person narrative, but every other chapter is a unique viewpoint. Some of them seem loosely linked to the broader story, only to be tied in tighter by a new narrator further down the line. It’s really fascinating. It also, and this is reflected in my limited worldview, opened me up to contemporary cultural Russian attitudes I never before considered. Under the Soviet Union, travel throughout the country was heavily restricted, and certainly there was no foreign travel into the country. The Kamchatka Peninsula saw no new faces until the collapse of the USSR and there are generations who grew up there who no longer recognize the changes in their home as people–both foreign and indigenous–immigrate. There is also a lot of consideration given to the indigenous peoples of Russia (again, this is a part of Russia that sticks off the part of Russia that sticks off the bulk of Russia) that I had honestly never realized existed but obviously someone made the trek across the land bridge of the Bering Strait so that was my ignorance being sorted out. Also, as everywhere, the racism of white people toward anyone they deem “other” including, of course, those who were there even before them.
It’s early in the year and I’ve already read a lot of spectacular books, but honestly, this was one of the best. It is a very big world, even in these very small parts of it.